During the 17th century, Robert Hooke (1635-1703) contributed significantly to the development of English science. Aside from being a pioneer in proposing concepts related to biological evolution, some of his contributions to physics have become universal laws. You will discover in Robert Hooke’s biography how influential figures erased a scientist’s legacy that had valuable ideas.

A brief biography of Robert Hooke

The index

  • Influences that matter

  • London’s Great Fire and Robert Hooke

  • A scientific awakening is taking place

  • Newton’s disputes

Influences that matter

The Isle of Wight, England, was the birthplace of Robert Hooke on July 28, 1635. He was born to John Hooke and Cecily Hooke as their fourth child. His health was very fragile from an early age, so his father taught him mainly at home. Despite John’s wishes, Robert seemed more interested in painting and mechanics than carrying on the family priestly tradition.

Robert Hooke’s father died when he was 13 years old. In order to attend a prestigious public school, the young man used his share of his inheritance to travel to London. In 1653, after completing his pre-university studies, he entered Christ Church College, Oxford University. Hooke began working in Boyle’s laboratory as an assistant to support himself.

Despite Hooke’s interest in science, it was Boyle’s orders that allowed him to study branches such as astronomy and chemistry. Furthermore, the young man had the opportunity to meet leading intellectuals of his time through his exchanges with Boyle. In 1662, Hooke joined the Linnean Society of London with the support of his tutor. During his tenure at this institution, he was an experiment caretaker.

London’s Great Fire and Robert Hooke

Because Robert Hooke came from a poor family and did not have the resources to support himself, he had to combine his research with work. In 1665, he became professor of geometry at Gresham College, but his job prevented him from carrying out his scientific research. A devastating fire ravaged central London a year later, lasting three days. It was a tragic event, but it provided Hooke with an opportunity to achieve financial success.

The Crown hired Robert Hooke as an inspector after the fire in London. Hooke assessed the fire damage along with his friend, the architect Christopher Wren. With the hope that the king would reward them financially for their efforts, the couple surveyed and redesigned more than half the city. Wren and Hooke were awarded money for working more than any other inspector.

An awakening of scientific knowledge

The fact that Robert Hooke’s expenses were covered for life enabled him to pursue the various investigations that he had had to postpone due to lack of funds. He sponsored the publication of Micrographia in 1667, a book documenting experiments performed under a microscope. This economic boost helped the book gain greater reach. In this work, Hooke coined the term cell.


Among the topics Robert Hooke investigated were comets, light behavior, gravity, air properties, and human memory. In addition, he was one of the first naturalists to study the fossilization of wood in order to understand paleontology.

As a result of Robert Hooke’s new economic status, he was able to purchase the finest measuring instruments. Because of his empiricist style, these improvements to his working conditions improved his ability to conduct precise investigations. In 1670, he presented his conclusions regarding refraction to the Linnean Society of London following a large number of experiments. In a few years, he began a relationship with his niece, Grace Hooke.

Newton’s disagreements

Robert Hooke’s theory of elasticity gained enormous popularity within London intellectual circles in 1678. A paper he wrote on spring behavior and titled Hooke’s law contained his ideas. In the following years, Hooke is believed to have been involved in various Newtonian investigations. In spite of Newton’s not always being in London, they exchanged ideas through correspondence.

After Newton published an essay known as the Principia in 1686, Robert Hooke and Newton’s friendship began to unravel. The conclusions for which Newton took full credit were a result of Hooke’s work, according to Hooke. He escalated his accusations, and eventually he demanded recognition for Newton’s discoveries about gravitation and planet behavior. As a result, these serious accusations could not be pursued due to a lack of evidence.

Robert Hooke was portrayed as an envious and reclusive man partly by Newton, who was offended by his accusations. It is unquestionable that Isaac had good reasons for what he did, but this image of Hooke could not be further from the truth, according to Margaret Espinasse, a British writer.

Following his accusations, Robert Hooke became dissatisfied with the lack of support from his colleagues. His last years were spent away from scientific investigation, and he died in London on March 3, 1703. As a result of his accusations, Newton initially partially erased his legacy. Hooke’s importance was recognized after some revisions carried out during the 20th century.

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